Talking to SpartansWeblog's KJ

Dylan Burkhardt

KJ from the Spartans Weblog agreed to answer a few questions about Michigan State before the big game on Tuesday night. If you want some Michigan talk, I also answered a few questions over on his site. KJ is one of the best in the business and does a great job covering Michigan State basketball and his site is definitely worth a read even for Michigan fans.

Is this the year Michigan State finally wins the Big Ten? It seems like the last several years have been disappointments in-conference for MSU, what makes this year a success?
With a two-game lead on the rest of the conference, it’s pretty easy to be confident about our chances of winning the league title at this point.  But I’ve felt pretty good about our chances for a while now.  This team is built the way a good Tom Izzo team needs to be built–with depth, versatility, and ferocious rebounding.  If we don’t win the league title, it will be an enormous disappointment.  Given the team’s perfect road record to date, I have a hard time seeing them collapse down the stretch.

What is the latest with Raymar Morgan? Should Michigan fans expect to see him Tuesday?
He was talking last week about wanting to be back for this game.  But the signs are pointing toward him not playing.  From what I’ve read, it takes several weeks to get your endurance back after a bout with mononucleosis.  And Izzo seems to believe it’s better to have the team know they can’t rely on Morgan than to have him play a few minutes here and there.  I think his absence will hurt a little more in this game than it has in previous games, as Morgan tends to take advantage of teams with smaller lineups like Michigan’s.

Who do you want taking the shot with the game on the line?
The obvious answer is Kalin Lucas.  He’s provided Izzo with that playmaker who can create off the dribble in the late minutes of games that we really haven’t had since Mateen Cleaves.  And he’s got a greak knack for knocking down difficult shots in the lane when we really need a bucket.  But Durrell Summers and Goran Suton have both shown they can make tough shots in key situations, too.  So defenses can’t overcommit to Lucas.

Who has been the most surprising player this year for MSU? And the most disappointing?
Durrell Summers has really emerged as a go-to player in Morgan’s absence.  He’s taken on the Morris Peterson role as a guy who can shoot the three, score in transition, and crash the glass from the perimeter.  He’s coming off a bad game vs. Indiana (0-8 from beyond the arc), but I expect him to bounce back and knock some shots down over the 1-3-1 zone.

Chris Allen, meanwhile, hasn’t been the consistent perimeter shooting threat we were counting on.  He’s made only 32.0% of his 3-point attempts on the season.  He’s 7-14 in his last two games, though, so his stroke might be back just in time for Tuesday’s game.

Generally, the MSU players have all played their assigned roles pretty well this season, though.  The biggest disappointments have really been injuries: Delvon Roe’s preseason knee surgery, followed by Suton’s knee issue in December, followed by Morgan’s prolonged sickness.  We’re all crossing our fingers everyone we’ll be at full health by next month.

Who (if anyone) would start for MSU from Michigan’s roster?
That’s a tough one.  Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are both clearly more talented than their MSU counterparts (Walton/Summers and Roe, respectively).  But it’s hard to envision how they’d fit into the MSU lineup given that Tom Izzo tends to have very specific roles/expectations for each player in his lineup.  I suspect Harris would be less free to use his one-on-one skills and Sims wouldn’t have quite as much freedom to roam around the perimeter.

Anyway, short answer: Harris and Sims are both clearly Big Ten-champion-level players.  From what I’ve seen, they’re just asked to do too much to make up for an inexperienced supporting cast.

Which Big Ten teams are going dancing?
MSU, Illinois, Purdue, Ohio State, and Minnesota look like they should all make it, barring a complete collapse down the stretch.  That leaves Wisconsin, Michigan, and Penn State as the remaining candidates.  My guess is that no more than one of those teams makes it in the end.  The schedule favors Wisconsin, with two games remaining against Indiana.  But Michigan’s two quality nonconference wins give you guys more margin for error.  Penn State, I think, will get squeezed out due to the lack of quality nonconference opponents.  So I’ll say six teams make it–with the March 1 Wisconsin-Michigan game in Madison as the sixth team.  A seventh team making it will probably require somebody upsetting a top-five team in the conference tournament (after having had to play a Thursday game to get to that point).

Let’s hear a score prediction for Tuesday night and your surprise player of the game.
Kenpom predicts a 71-66 MSU win.  I think the game will be lower scoring than that, with the 1-3-1 slowing MSU down and Travis Walton frustrating Manny Harris’ attempts to initiate the Michigan offense.  Unless your supporting cast really gets hot from 3-point range (which is certainly a possibility given what’s happened in our two conference losses), my instincts say MSU wins fairly comfortably on the strength of a massive rebounding advantage.  So I’ll say MSU wins 65-56.  I’ll follow that up by saying I hate making predictions about specific games. and I’m sure at some point during the game I’ll curse myself for jinxing the team.  :)

I’m also notoriously bad at predicting surprise players of the game, but I’ll say Draymond Green follows up his 15-point/12-rebound game on Saturday by pulling down 2-3 key offensive rebounds in this game against the smaller Wolverine forwards.

Anyway, here’s to a good, clean game.  It should be fun to watch two teams with such contrasting styles go at it with major chips in play (Big Ten title/NCAA Tournament bid) on both sides.

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  • AG2

    I don’t know whether or not to be surprised that he didn’t mention MSU’s biggest weakness: turnovers. MSU is a turnover machine, and Michigan’s 1-3-1 zone seems to be adept at forcing steals against teams who are bad at taking care of the ball.

    I expect to see MSU come out wanting to run, playing a long bench, and looking to dunk a lot to crush both the team and the crowd’s morale. If Michigan survives the early hits, MSU could get frustrated that they can’t simply out-talent Michigan to a win.

  • SpartanDan

    AG2: It’s actually not as much of a weakness this year. They don’t do a great job of hanging onto the ball, but their turnover percentage is a little below the national average – and Michigan doesn’t force all that many turnovers either (136th nationally in defensive TO% – above average but nowhere near Northwestern territory).

    Honestly, my biggest worry is that somebody like Novak or Douglass goes nuts from long range. That was the key factor in both losses in conference. If Michigan’s three-point percentage stays reasonable, I think MSU wins.

  • MSU turned the ball over on 28.3% of their possessions against Northwestern so I wouldn’t say that the three point shooting was the only issue.

  • Giddings

    My hope is that turnovers will be the equalizer for the rebounding deficit. Let’s say MSU grabs 18 offensive rebounds and we only get 8… well if we can force 18 turnovers and only commit 8, then it’s basically a wash.

    I think it’s funny that opposing fans/coaches/media are always so scared of Stu or Zack going nuts from 3-point range. If you look at our big wins so far, they were based much more on defense and easy baskets rather than 3-point shooting. Of course, we’re still waiting for the day when both Stu and Zack are hot… Tuesday would be a welcome time for it to come.

  • SpartanDan

    Fair point, Dylan. But:
    – Northwestern forces turnovers better than just about anyone else (13th nationally, easily atop the Big Ten); the difference between MSU’s turnover rate in that game and what Northwestern usually forces comes out to 1.7 extra turnovers (in a 64-possession game).
    – Lucas is generally a good ballhandler who had an atrocious game at it against Northwestern. (For that matter, so did Allen, but in his case that’s a little less atypical – he just took it to an extreme in that game.)
    – Since that game, MSU has won the turnover battle three times (including the loss to Penn State) and come out even in the other two.
    – Even with us throwing the ball into the stands on a regular basis, it wouldn’t have mattered if Coble hadn’t gone berserk from 30 feet – mostly because we were cleaning up on the boards as usual. A team that turns the ball over a lot can make up for it by rebounding well, effectively getting those extra possessions that were lost by turnovers back.

  • All fair counter points Dan. I understand that Northwestern is really good at forcing turnovers in the 1-3-1 but Michigan has had games where they are very successful as well. Notably in big games… UCLA and UConn. They haven’t done it consistently but those were two games where the zone look was very effective.

  • Robert04

    Unrelated question for Dylan.
    Do you think that with a shooter like Matt Vogrich coming in to replace Merritt. Or with a good guard like D. Morris replacing C.J. Lee. With Jordan Morgan replacing J.Shep. (sidebar:With Anthony wright maybe being replaced by Angus Brandt) An influx of big men, Morgan, Cronin, and maybe a little bit of Mclimans – I hope Zack Gibson starts at the 5 and Deshawn at the four, btw – will Michigan be a NCAA tournament team or does the inexperience down low not really replace walk-ons and canadian parts?

  • Sam

    Robert, I’m not Dylan, but I would say I know my fair share of Michigan basketball. And I would say that, if we don’t make the Tournament next year, something is wrong with the coaching. We are bringing in nothing but more talent and guys that fit Beilein’s system. I am Beilein’s biggest fan, but if we don’t dance next year, even I would think about calling for his head.

  • Josh B

    When Michigan has beaten (UCLA, Duke) or almost beaten (UCONN) top teams this year, their success has been in creating easy baskets on offense and limiting easy baskets on defense.

    I know that sounds painfully obvious, but when our offense runs smoothly (back door cuts, ball movement, drive-and-dish) it creates open shots. When our offense lives 28 feet from the basket we get no easy looks, and we attempt almost 30 threes per game. We attempted 20 against UCLA, 16 against Duke. We took 29 against UCONN, but 8-9 of those were in the last couple minutes.

    On defense, if MSU is getting uncontested putbacks this game will be over in a hurry. UCONN killed M on the boards, but we did a great job of contesting their second-chance looks for most of the game. I cannot believe I’m about to say this, but I’m hopeful that Zack Gibson can play with the same intensity on defense.

    Turnovers and 3-point shooting will be key, but watch for who does a better job of limiting layups. Even though Crisler should be hype, I do not expect MSU to turn the ball over 18 times.

  • Josh B

    Oops sorry, 22 three-point attempts against Duke. I was handed bad information by my personal statistician.

  • KJ

    AG2 et al.,
    Whether or not the Michigan 1-3-1 is successful in creating MSU turnovers is clearly the biggest key in this game. (It was the topic of the first question I asked Dylan on my site!)

    I’m with Dan in being cautiously optimistic that this year’s Spartan squad is much less likely to implode by making bad decisions with the ball than the last two teams were.

    The first five minutes in this game may be more important than they are in most games. If MSU doesn’t turn the ball over against the 1-3-1, they’re likely to take advantage on the offensive glass and force Beilein to go man to man. If they do turn the ball over, it will be a very long night for those of us wearing green.

  • blueinflorida

    If we bring the same intensity we brought saturday night, we’ll win this game. I think we play to our competition and thus play the best in big games. Since this one’s at home, I’m feeling pretty confident. We need this one, and this team knows it.

  • Benjamin

    @Sam, calling for a coaches head after you three seasons? How ridiculous.

    If we get 4 more wins this year, and we are dancing.


  • JimC

    MSU is perfect on the road in the B10. That is impressive.

    Like AG2 said, if the team and crowd morale survive the big inevitable dunks, M will be in it!


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  • Dave

    it takes intensity at all times to win games and hopefully they will develop that attitude…..i hope each of these kids are seeing what it takes to win…….they are still learning here, but they have to have intensity, specifically on the defensive side of the ball, they will begin to literally scare people when they have to play them if they are known for intense defense. they may dance “maybe” but they will never win big ten championships and obviously not national championships without great defense…….you have to bring your “A” game every game and cant afford to have stretches of 3 or 4 bad games in a row….look at the best teams in the country, they dont have 4 game strethces where they look bad, and if they do they dont lose them all, they still find ways to win………..we have to be patient with this team and next year is going to be a great year and if they still struggle next year at times then i will be really scratching my head, but they are young and are still realizing that they need to use back doors more and things of that nature…….they definitely need more versatile players thats a must, but you have to be intense, especially on the road

  • Dave

    it would be real nice to see a 2010 or 2011 class of say 3 top 75/top 50 or 2 out of each class, or get a couple 5 star recruits which should be happening more often than never and get a couple of well known recruits here that will generate some fun stuff and let them play and develop over a few years

  • Ken in Vegas

    Is it really that surprising that we don’t get 5 star players or even several 4 star players in a recruiting class? We haven’t been to the Big Dance in 10 years! We’re lucky that we get the kids that we do honestly. Our football and academic reputation help immensely. I would be willing to bet that out of all the schools that haven’t been dancing in 10 consecutive years or more, we BY FAR have the best recruiting classes. Once we start seeing the postseason, then we will DESERVE to pull in top name recruits. Right now Beilein has the right idea in finding hidden gems that fit his system. Build it and they will come…..

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  • Dave

    build it and they will come ……..thats so stupid but i laughed a bit i hope you wrote that as a joke…….i just ask for versatility, not just 3 point shooters…..lets get some athletes there you can create things when 3s wont fall

  • Dave

    no offense about the stupid comment

  • Dave

    also i dont think its that ridiculous……i mean look at all the top recruiting sites and you will see several top 100 or top 50 players going to some extremely odd schools, this is michigan we should at least be able to attract the at least 1 of the best instate players every class because some of them had to of grown up watching michigan and just want to play at michigan………or if none the less at least by chance…….thats why manny is here…..becasue he wanted to play at michigan……..other michigan/psl kids have to be in the same boat

  • AG2

    I direct your attention to FSU’s pounding of Michigan in Amaker’s last game in the 2nd round of the 2007 NIT. They haven’t made the tournament for just as long as we have so I’m assuming Leonard Hamilton has recruited pretty well to still be employed.

  • Dave

    if teams like akron, la salle, or even xavier who obviously is a solid team year after year, but still play in a terrible conference………….if these teams can attract big time recruits especially xavier then michigan should be able to be in the mix for anybody…. there is no way that xavier is more appealing to players than michigan

  • AG2

    Well, I’m sure Dar Tucker is wondering why he chose DePaul.

    Btw, MSU is a 4 point favorite tomorrow night.

  • Dave

    yeah dar tucker is definitely pissed

  • Sam

    Benjamin, you clearly either did not understand me or simply didn’t read my whole post. As I said, I am the biggest supporter of Beilein that I know. I would be the last one to call for him to be fired. I was saying that to make a point about how good we should be next season. I think we will be very solid in all aspects and should really be a shoo-in for the Big Dance. Beilein is too good a coach to screw it up next year. I, in fact, still think we will make the Big Dance this year, and it will start with a win tomorrow.


  • bf1118

    We really need this one and it would be awesome to finally stick it to Izzo for the first time in a very long time. If they come out with the same type of aggression and tenacity that they had against UConn on Saturday, there is no doubt they will have a great shot down the stretch to pull the upset. I think this game is just as important as any on this schedule coming up and the players should treat it as such.

    GO BLUE!!

  • Ken in Las Vegas

    Dave, I will concede that some teams like Akron pulling in a good recruit now and again can be a bit of a head scratcher, but using Xavier as an example does not strengthen your argument. Having lived in Cincinnati, I can tell you that they are one of the premier basketball schools in the nation. Excellent fans, who travel way better than us. Great facilities. Superb coach. Tournament exposure every year. The only point that I’m trying to make is that we shouldn’t expect high school basketball stars to pick Michigan on academics alone (or because we have a good football team). They don’t remember the fab five and were 7 years old the last time we were in the tourney. I’m pretty grateful that we’ve been able to recruit the way we have. Here’s to better recruiting now that we’re actually earning it.

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  • Dave

    ok you win this one

  • U-M in N.Y.

    Robert asked an excellent question about next season.

    When is U-M going to be strong enough inside to compete with tournament-caliber Big Ten teams? Wisconsin destroyed us inside, making 66% of their twos. So did Ohio State, home (64%) and away (71%). Until this changes, until U-M can regularly beat Wisconsin, OSU and the like at home, we’ll never be more than a bubble team. There will never be enough Iowa/NU games to get over .500 in league play.

    Will our interior defense improve enough next season? We’ll have more bodies, but they’ll be awfully young …